Our iconoclastic exemplars

May 6, 2007    By: Geoff J @ 5:33 pm   Category: Scriptures

Today we covered John 9 in Sunday School. I’ve always admired the man who was blind from birth in this story — partially for his faith but more for his belligerent attitude toward the prideful and conniving leaders of his community. Let’s look at some of the relevant passages. First, after the man’s sight is restored the people are astonished and ask him what happened:

10 Therefore said they unto him, How were thine eyes opened?
11 He answered and said, A man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed mine eyes, and said unto me, Go to the pool of Siloam, and wash: and I went and washed, and I received sight.
12 Then said they unto him, Where is he? He said, I know not.

Next we learn that the Pharisees were pretty freaked out about the whole thing and made it clear that anyone who vouched for Jesus would pay dearly. The blind dude’s parents, being the citizens in good standing they were and not wanting any trouble, basically pleaded the 5th when the Pharisees came to grill them:

20 His parents answered them and said, We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind:
21 But by what means he now seeth, we know not; or who hath opened his eyes, we know not: he is of age; ask him: he shall speak for himself.

In other words: “Leave us alone. Ask him.”

So this gets us to the best and snarkiest lines of this chapter. First the healed man bluntly gives the Pharisees his honest opinion about Jesus:

17 They say unto the blind man again, What sayest thou of him, that he hath opened thine eyes? He said, He is a prophet.

Then we get this classic exchange between church leaders and the healed man:

24 Then again called they the man that was blind, and said unto him, Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner.
25 He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.
26 Then said they to him again, What did he to thee? how opened he thine eyes?
27 He answered them, I have told you already, and ye did not hear: wherefore would ye hear it again? will ye also be his disciples?
28 Then they reviled him, and said, Thou art his disciple; but we are Moses’ disciples.
29 We know that God spake unto Moses: as for this fellow, we know not from whence he is.
30 The man answered and said unto them, Why herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes.
31 Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth.
32 Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind.
33 If this man were not of God, he could do nothing.
34 They answered and said unto him, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out.

I love it. His response was basically the equivalent of “Bite a wall you pack of Bozos”. Iconoclasm at its best. Of course their attitude was “We’re the priesthood leadership of the true church of God! How dare he?!” And their response was quick and severe — he was cast out from among them for standing up to their ecclesiastical authority.

This man gets a happy ending (spiritually at least) in the next passage.

35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God?
36 He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?
37 And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee.
38 And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him.

And the moral of the story is the fact that the blind man was the only one who could see spiritually and the physically whole Pharisees and most of their too-conforming followers were the blind ones.

The disconcerting part of this story to Mormons in the new millennium ought to be the parallels that are best drawn for us in these scriptures. The Jews were members of God’s true religion and had been for thousands of years and they knew it. It seems to me that disagreeing with ecclesiastical leaders was considered apostasy. I think that if we were honest we’d have to admit that in most of our cases we could probably more easily relate to the don’t-rock-the-boat parents of the of the blind man than to the iconoclastic, rebellious, authority-bucking blind man himself. The bigger and more established the restored church becomes the more we have this odd parallel with our scriptures I think.

Be prepared… To be rebellious?

That is partially why it is so important that each of us maintain a healthy and independent personal relationship with God. As they say, we can’t live on borrowed light. I think that most of the time not rocking the boat is the thing God wants from us. But there might come other times when rocking the boat is what God wants from us; just like those times came for other members of God’s church in the past like this healed young man or for Lehi or Nephi or Jeremiah or Abinadi or for a majority of our prophetic exemplars in the scriptures. But we will never be able to know if/when those times come if we do not have a healthy and independent personal relationship with God.

I believe that the strength of the church is the independent connections we all can have with God. Our power comes from the synergy that arises from our shared revelatory experience. As I see it, that is like each of us keeping a close personal relationship with the owner of the organization. Troubles with middle management in the organization on occasion are nearly inevitable. But as I have said in the past — if we do run into trouble with middle management (God forbid) we should discuss our troubles directly with the owner. He usually will help us find the least painful resolution. But when push comes to shove the owner wins. The scriptures are unanimous on that point at least.

6 Comments »

  1. One of the things I love about this story is that it unfolds in a way that is very easy to relate to. We don’t have to do the normal amount of tedious analysis to get a sense for what the different people were thinking and feeling. Now, I disagree with your choice of the snarkiest verse. I think verse 30 is the snarkiest (and most hilarious):

    30 The man answered and said unto them, Why herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes.

    As to your point about rocking the boat, one thing I have thought about many times is whether I would be willing to rock the boat if I thought God wanted me to, if I was forced to do it in the teeth of the leadership. I grew up believing that if you did what was right and remained humble, there was no chance you could be excommunicated. Sometimes I wonder, though, after seeing how power struggles arise and play out, if it could happen that you could end up in a situation where you felt you had to stick to your guns on something (felt inspired that it was important to do so), but that it could still lead to disciplinary action. That would be a difficult situation to deal with, and would certainly put that independent and personal relationship to the test.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 7, 2007 @ 8:41 pm

  2. Well I’m glad that someone read this post Jacob. I thought it was an interesting one at least. And if it makes you feel better I was including verse 30 in my list of the snarky verses — it is one of the best individual verses in that sequence.

    But you have captured the heart of the problem. The scriptures hold up a rebel who gets cast out from the true church as an example for us. Sure, the priesthood leaders were acting unrighteously, but as you asked, what would we do if we had priesthood leaders who were acting unrighteously and if we felt God wanted us to stick our guns in opposing them? Let’s just pray that none of us ever have to face that situation I guess…

    Comment by Geoff J — May 7, 2007 @ 9:25 pm

  3. Ah, the grace of God, that when those who do not understand cast us out, that Jesus will come and find us. (verse 35)

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — May 8, 2007 @ 8:26 am

  4. Does anyone know what happened to the leaders? Why did Christ feel a need to bypass the leaders at that time? Were they so far gone that they were beyond help? What is suppose to keep us from the same kind of problems today? How many of us are Pharisees today?

    I could write a book on what it is like to rock the boat in the Church. It a nut shell, it is not fun. I am still asking myself if I had to do it all over again, would I still rock the boat? I think I would, I would just do it a little differently. Would the result be different? I do not really think so. I would still find myself on the outer fringes of the Church.

    I believe that Covey is correct when he said that one cannot teach something other than what they believe and do so with any degree of integrity.

    You do have some interesting questions here, any interesting answers? :)

    Comment by CEF — May 8, 2007 @ 9:30 am

  5. CEF,

    In the context of John 9 and as a fellow former fringe-dwelling boat-rocker, perhaps I could share what has helped me a little (and it is still a big work in progress) — it’s a question I now ask myself whenever I think about throwing my weight around in the canoo (and this may apply to myself more than to you as I often enjoy playing devil’s advocate simply for my own entertainment):

    Is the intent of my imminent boat rocking designed to help the *blind to see, or will my words have the opposite, muddying effect?

    (*and if it is intended to help the blind to see, am I being overly-arrogant in assuming that they are blind and I am not?)

    Comment by Glenn — May 8, 2007 @ 10:08 am

  6. Hi Glenn,

    I have asked myself that question many many times over the years. I have even considered that I am delusional and really have things all messed up, and it is I that have things wrong. I think that is why I hang out in places like this, hoping to find the answer that will explain everything and my life will be as simple as I remember it use to be. So far, that has not happened. But I have not given up yet.

    Comment by CEF — May 8, 2007 @ 10:38 am

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